The Tree

Benjamin J. VanDyke

I opened my eyes, for the very first time. Upon opening them, I took in my surroundings, and was immediately captivated by the awe-inspiring beauty and wonder of it all. There were hues of vibrant green, growing upwards from the ground towards the dazzling blue sky. The sunlight flooded down from the heavens, bathing the Garden in a warm, inviting glow. I was filled with a sense of unexplainable and peaceful contentment: joyfully, I took a deep breath- my first breath. I was alive, and happy to be so. All was well. How could it not be?

It was then that I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye, one Tree stood taller than the others, centered in their midst. What was so significant about it, I could not explain if I tried, but nevertheless, there was something rather enticing about it. As if in a trance, I slowly walked forward to it, and placed my hand upon the bark. Written there, in deep, carved letters, was an intense and express warning. It read:

“Of all the other trees, you may freely eat; but if you eat of this fruit, From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall surely die.”

That was all it said. There was nothing complicated about it, but for some strange reason, I could not walk away. There was something both intriguing and mysterious about it. I was fascinated by it, tempted. I had it in my head that whatever the consequences were, surely they couldn’t be that bad. Besides, what did I know of death? I was alive.

Almost despite myself, I slowly reached out my hand, and skillfully I plucked a low hanging Fruit from the nearest branch. Now I had a decision to make. Would I heed the warning? Or would I take my chance? I turned the Fruit over in my hand, thinking to myself. What did the Writer of the warning know that I did not? He had referenced the words ‘good’ and ‘evil’…what evil meant I did not know, but if the Tree promised knowledge, then what was I waiting for? Fueled by my inner desire to follow my own methods, I greedily raised the Fruit to my lips, and in the next moment, I had taken a bite.

Instantly, there was a wailing cry that echoed eerily throughout the Garden, and a low tremor shook the earth beneath my feet as the sky darkened above me. The lonely cry was tainted with despair and grief- things that only moments ago, I could never have even conceived of in my mind, but now, after eating the Fruit… I understood them all too well. I looked down at it in my hand, and I was overcome with a strong desire to fling it from me, but I could not; for it was all I had. Behind me, I heard footsteps, and I was filled with a deepening sense of shame and regret. I was caught, I was naked, I was lost, I was…a sinner. I hung my head in anguished guilt. But my remorse changed nothing, and there was no time or place to hide. Trembling, I turned to face the Stranger.

It was the Father. He looked at me with a sadness that was so deep, so personal, so overwhelming, I could not bring myself to even look Him in the eye. My shame quickly changed to fury: who was He to judge me, to look at me like that? He had no right! I had eaten of the Fruit, and now my knowledge was equal to Him, to God Himself. Enraged, confused, and proud of my new condition, I began to curse and insult Him, wishing with all of my heart, with the very soul that He had given to me, that He would just walk away. But He did not. He simply gazed back into my angry, tear filled stare, and gave me a small, sad smile.

The scene changed. In a whirl of mist and shrouded history, the lush, serene peace of the Garden had disappeared into the starry night, and I found myself in a quiet, wintry forest. The Tree however, had remained. But could it really be the same Tree? For much like the rest of the scenery, the Tree had changed also. It was now a tall, towering pine, characterized with soft green needles and outstretched branches, pointing ever upwards toward Heaven. The Tree radiated light, for scattered across its many branches were thousands of bright, flickering candles. I drew myself closer to it, for the night was biting cold, and the Tree offered warmth and welcome. The glow of the candlelight distantly reminded me of the sunlight I had once felt in the Garden, only now it was fragmented, and diminished. As I moved closer to the light, I noticed a small, wooden box, nearly hidden at the base of the Tree. Curious, I knelt down to look closer. Upon inspecting it, I discovered that it was not a box, but instead a small shallow trough. Inside, wrapped in dirty blankets, was a newborn baby boy, sleeping peacefully. I was surprised. Was there no one to care for Him, none to take Him in? If that was the case, the baby didn’t seem be aware of it, or if He was, He didn’t seem to mind. It was then that I realized that the Tree obtained all of its warmth, peace, and hopefulness from this small, sleeping infant. Without the Boy, it had nothing. I examined the manger again, and noticed the word “Immanuel,” carved on the side, in the same, familiar handwriting that had been etched on the Tree in the Garden. I stood up and shivered, despite the Tree’s warmth. I didn’t deserve to be here; for in my hand, the cursed Fruit remained. I was still unable to rid myself of it, and so I had finally accepted it as a permanent piece of myself. As long as I clung to the Fruit, and it to me, I could never belong in this cheerful setting, one that radiated such Hope, Joy and Peace. How could I remain here, blotted and impure, in this innocent Boy’s presence? I bowed my head and wept softly to myself.

The scene transformed again. I now stood alone on a rocky, barren hillside, unprotected from the cruel and howling wind. It cut at my face and brutally pushed me down. Falling to the ground, I closed my eyes, waiting for His righteous wrath. This was it, at last- the long deserved judgment fitting for the crime which I had willingly committed, the end of all my pain. At last, God had come to finish me. Nothing had changed for me since my last encounter with Him in the Garden: I was still unable to hide, and I still clung to the Fruit-I had not relinquished either it or my hatred for Him, for His perfection, for His holiness… There was nothing for it but to lie here and die the death that I had won, the death that I had chosen. Vulnerable and despairing, I curled up on the rocks and cringed, awaiting that final blow.

How long I lay there, I do not know. To my surprise, the blow did not come as I expected, and finally, I opened my eyes and allowed myself one small glimpse of my surroundings. The sky above was black and dark, darker than I had ever seen it before, even when compared with that fatal day in the Garden. The whirling clouds above billowed high and strong in the night, blotting out the Heavens and issuing forth ferocious lightning. But to my surprise, the lightning, the wind, and the darkness were not aimed for me. The stormy gale had passed on, toward the very peak of the hill.

I glanced upwards towards the top, and at once I recognized the Tree. The lightning struck it relentlessly, without mercy, and the branches fell from it and hit the rocks with the noise of thunderbolts- the pounding of nails. I screamed in anguish. No! That Tree was the only pure and wholesome thing that remained in the world! It could not be destroyed! But I saw it with my own eyes, and bitterly I cursed up at Heaven. This was His fault. Picking myself up, I raced to the hilltop. I knew there was nothing I could do, for in my heart I knew the truth; this was my fault. It was my selfish actions that had cursed the world. Nevertheless, I ran to the Tree.

When at last I reached the summit, I was horrified at what I saw. Gone were the soft, evergreen needles of the tree, gone were the candles, gone was the Child Himself. Instead, the Tree had transformed again, back to its original state; only now it was cruel, charred and burned. Stretched across it was a Man, lifeless and torn. What had become of Immanuel? What had become of His warmth, His joy, His life? It had been replaced with my own cold, despairing death, the death that I had chosen, the death that I should have won, for I had willingly taken it. But He had taken it back, and flung it selflessly upon Himself. I could not believe my eyes.

Off to the side of the Tree, a small group of soldiers had gathered together, and were casting lots for Immanuel’s robe. But the breeze had picked up again, and suddenly it caught the robe with a strong burst of wind, and it floated toward… me. Out of the corner of my eye, to my right, I saw a hand reach forward and pick it gently out of the air. It was the Father. Still smiling His small, sad smile, He placed the robe on my shoulders and clothed me. It was soft, white, and clean, and much more than I deserved. He turned and walked away, leaving me speechless.

Suddenly, I was alone with the Tree. Gone were the soldiers, gone was Emmanuel…in His place, where He had hung as the victim of my death only moments before, was the single word “Redeemed,” etched into the cruel, hard wood. I reached out my hand to touch the bark once more and felt the deeply carved letters, each one penned for me. The moment I did so, the Fruit fell from my hand, futile and lifeless. I clung to the Tree and sobbed.

Behind me, there was a soft, growing rumble, and through my tears I turned to look. An invisible veil had been torn in the sky; whether it had always been there, I did not know nor care, for I now could at last see beyond it. A new Tree has risen there, one that had the word “Life” emblazoned on its eternal trunk. It emanated light and joy from its leaves, and from within its golden rays Immanuel stepped forward, renewed, whole, and full of life. He stretched out His pierced hand, and beckoned for me to enter into the Light. At first I could not understand: surely I did not belong there, with Him! I was contaminated, I was dirty, I was sinful…or was I? For now the Fruit was gone forever, and I was wearing the robes of Heaven itself. He smiled at me, expressing to me that I belonged. “Behold,” He said, with an intense joy, “I am making all things new.”

Afterword

The Tree is an allegory for God’s established redemption plan to save mankind from sin. This first person narrative explores man’s sinful condition and God’s consequent plan to save Him from it. It is an illustration of how God is capable of using our own failures and mistakes to glorify Himself and further His kingdom. Ultimately, the Tree itself is a symbol for the history of God’s redemption plan for humanity, traced through the ages. We see the origins of sin and it’s effect on man’s condition, witness the birth of God’s plan to take us back, and ultimately the final fulfillment of that plan through Christ’s atonement for sins, through His death and resurrection.

The story begins in the Garden of Eden, where the reader discovers the first Tree; the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the Bible, this Tree is found in Genesis chapters two and three, after Creation was perfectly completed by God. God commanded both Adam and Eve not to eat of this Tree’s fruit, warning them that this act would unquestionably release evil, death and decay into the world. In this first scene, the reader is plunged into sin after disobeying God and taking the forbidden Fruit. We see the inner struggle of mankind’s fallen nature, including selfishness and greed.

Instantly, the reader is hurtled forward through history, and finds himself/herself in a different setting, but in front of the same Tree, only to have found it transformed into a Christmas Tree. Underneath the Tree, the reader discovers a small, wooden manger, inside of which sleeps a baby Boy; the promised Deliverer. In the Old Testament, the birth of mankind’s Savior is foretold. Isaiah 9:6 prophesizes: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It is through the Christ of Christmas that Peace finally entered the world, through “Immanuel.” In the same way, the New Testament offers the fulfillment of that promise. Mathew 1:23 says: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” This was God’s way of reaching out to us, even when we did not reach back for Him. In this way, the Christmas Tree represents God’s desire for peace on earth, despite man’s selfish choice for sin.

The scene changes again, and this time, the Christmas Tree transforms into the Tree of Calvary; the Cross itself. This is where Christ is crucified for the sins and transgressions of the sinner. Only after Christ is voluntarily sacrificed on our behalf is the reader finally able to rid himself/herself of the weight of the Fruit that they took at the beginning of the story. The reader is then clothed in Christ’s own robe, symbolizing Christ’s sacrificial atonement for sins. The Tree itself is burnt and charred from receiving God’s wrath, for the very Incarnation of Peace and Goodwill to men had to pay the price that we deserved to pay — death itself. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

The scene changes one last time, and the reader is at last able to see into Heaven, where Christ stands triumphant, alive and whole, beckoning the redeemed sinner to enter in. Directly behind Him stands a new Tree: The eternal Tree of Life, which is spoken of in Revelation 22:1–5. “Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer beany night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.” This final stage of the Tree reveals God’s fulfillment and renewal of His Creation by doing away with sin and death for all eternity.

Ultimately, this story is a summarized allegory for God’s grace, mercy, and peace. It is, in short, the Gospel, illustrated by a simple tree. It speaks of a God who values those who do not value Him, and the love with which He passionately pursues us. It speaks of a God who took on frail humanity to die a substitutionary death, that life might be available for all who believe on Him. This story carries a powerful message of eternal value to all mankind. In a world of sin and death, everyone needs to know of God’s compassion, love and sacrifice, and that is what is portrayed in The Tree.